4 Reasons Brands Fail

By Chris Goldschmidt, Brand Strategist

Branding is complicated business. Done the right way, it can make your business prosper. Poorly done, it can damage your future prospects.

As students of branding, we’ve seen many cases of brands failing elsewhere. There are plenty of reasons why this happens to businesses who are otherwise strong. So if you’re looking to overhaul your company’s brand, make sure you don’t fall into one (or more) of these categories. Don’t say you weren’t warned:

1. People often don’t understand the difference between branding and advertising. And, trust us, there is a profound difference. Many see advertising as the “magic bullet” to fix what’s fundamentally wrong with a company’s brand, rather than vice-versa. These people will typically say, “We’ll have a new ad campaign with shiny new spots and maybe even a new logo and that will change the customer’s perception of us!”

Were that the case. Branding transcends advertising. While advertising is part of the business, branding IS the business – and it can make or break you. Branding means working with your sales force, your customer service and support teams, your upper-level management and even your customers to establish a clear-cut, unified approach to the marketplace. That means branding directly affects the entirety of your operations. From what the CEO says to the business press to what the service technician says to the customer, your brand represents an entire universe of thought. That’s why it is far more than advertising. Rather, it’s the radical reinvention of the company. It’s the establishment of a culture. Your promise to the marketplace.

As a result, when it comes to branding, advertising messaging is almost always the last element that comes into play. For until a strong, customer-driven culture is in place, all those advertising dollars are wasted. It’s the caboose, not the engine, so to speak.

2. They make great promises… and a bad product. There’s a quote in the ad world from lauded ad guru Jerry Della Femina (you know his persona if you watch “Mad Men”): “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.” If you make a promise to your customers, but then don’t fulfill that promise, your brand fails. It’s the age-old idea that it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver.

Of course, a brand is aspirational in nature. It’s a goal for where your company should be going. But you have to back up your brand with the right tools for when the prospect makes contact with your company. Yet if, after communicating with your company or buying your product, your customer is disappointed, your brand has failed. And your disappointed customer will let everybody and his brother know. Count on it.

3. The CEO doesn’t drive the process. Traditionally, branding is considered a project that the CEO delegates to the marketing director, who then engages to the ad agency, who sends something back to the marketing director who then presents the resulting efforts back up to the CEO.

This is a terrible model, especially when a company has so much at stake.

If you realize that branding is a strategic initiative, then branding should begin and end in the executive suite. After all, the ones in corporate leadership are the ones with vision. They know where the company needs to go to thrive. So if the brand is to reflect that vision, they need to be intimately involved in how it is created.

As leader, the CEO’s job is to communicate a vision to all the people in the organization. He or she should be directly involved with the branding firm. It’s not something that can be sloughed off to underlings and have hope to succeed. Instead, the top people in an organization HAVE to be involved and be prepared to enforce the new position – and all that it entails – throughout the company.

4. They can’t commit. Branding is not a date – it’s a marriage. You have to fully commit to your brand, with both the work you do and your company’s resources (people, time and money). Since branding functions on a strategic level, it requires work from the customer service representatives to the sales force to the CEO. Everyone in the organization has to be “all in” with the common goal of working inside the brand that you’ve created.

New ideas should fit within your brand – you don’t mold a brand to fit a new product or idea. As an example, I worked with a microbrewery several years ago. The new brewery’s product line was confined to two products, both enjoying good sales. Yet, instead of maintaining the brand of a brewery committed to quality craft beers, the company began producing a light beer—a product wholly inconsistent with the brand. The product, while well-made, performed terribly because it didn’t fit the brand. It was the equivalent of Mercedes producing an economy car. So being committed to your brand can help ensure compliance within the entire organization.

That’s it in a nutshell. These are just a few of the ways your brand can fail. But with a clear goal, aspirations, employee energy and a top-down approach, your brand will be the most valuable asset, and greatest advantage, your company has.

Chris Goldschmidt is the Creative Director of The Forte Marketing Group, a branding agency in Birmingham, Alabama.